Supreme fiction

I listened to a podcast today from the ABC on Claude Levi Strauss (W) and made connections with what I think of as Korzybski’s somewhat phenomenological ideas, so I searched for the connection and found one, guess who?:

(Quote follows & some references to books I’d like to follow up on here too)

O’Reilly Network Weblogs: Science and Consensus:

In college, a friend of mine named Lewis Gannet (whom I’ve long lost touch with) wrote an amazing paper drawing ideas from Claude Levi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind and Wallace Stevens’ sole book of essays, The Necessary Angel, to argue that while earlier societies had shared belief systems, our challenge today is to build shared beliefs knowing that they are not “true”. Stevens’ solution, in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”, was to recognize that the construction of reality is an artistic act, not just a scientific one.

At about the same time, I studied with a man named George Simon, who was trying to build what he called “languages for consciousness,” believing, like Benjamin Whorf (author of Language, Thought and Reality), that our language limits our ability to perceive, and that until we have languages for certain states of consciousness and perception, we won’t be able to use them. He saw his work as an extension of general semantics, a system developed in the 30’s by Alfred Korzybski, author of Science and Sanity. Korzybski’s famous statement, “the map is not the territory” is more than an observation; it’s a tool for living more perceptively. A lot of my friend George’s work was in training people to open up the ladder of perception, to recognize the difference between what you are experiencing directly vs. through various levels of abstraction, to let go preconceived notions and let the world come in fresh.

George also argued that as human consciousness evolves, certain things that were once on the frontiers of awareness, and that were experienced with near-mystical force, become commonplaces as they are routinely abstracted into language. In my classics honors thesis at Harvard, I used this premise to assess certain of Plato’s dialogues, arguing that the mystical overtones with which Socrates describes concepts like justice and truth were the result of the newness of his ideas. As we “rehearse” these now familiar ideas thousands of years later, we don’t get that same rush. Most of us receive them at a level of abstraction, fitting them into our accepted system of facts, rather than taking them in through the entire ABCD perceptual cycle. (And yes, I recently came across a copy of the thesis, and when I find time, I’ll scan it and put it up online.)

PS The Joi Ito review is here, the O’reilly link is broken.

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